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Twitter welcome to do business, but must respect Indian laws: Govt

Indian laws enacted by parliament must be followed irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines, Electronics and Information Technology secretary tells Twitter officials, expressing strong displeasure at the social media network's reluctance to take down accounts that abuse freedom of speech.

February 11, 2021 / 07:43 AM IST

Twitter is "welcome to do business" in India, but the company must respect the domestic laws, the government told the representatives of the social media giant during a meeting on February 10.

On request of Twitter, the meeting was held between the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY) secretary and two of the company's top officials - Monique Meche, Vice President Global Public Policy, and Jim Baker, Vice President Legal.

Twitter was informed during the meeting that it is allowed to operate freely due to India’s "conducive business environment, open internet and firm commitment to the freedom of expression". However, the company should be mindful of the reasonable restrictions imposed, the government said in a statement.

"Freedom of expression is not absolute and it is subject to reasonable restrictions as mentioned in Article 19 (2) of the Constitution of India. Various judgments of the Supreme Court have also upheld this from time to time," the MeitY statement noted.

Twitter is free to formulate its own rules and guidelines, like any other business entity does, but "Indian laws which are enacted by the Parliament of India must be followed" irrespective of Twitter’s own rules and guidelines, the secretary told the company's representatives during the meeting.

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The row between Twitter and the Indian government erupted after the former refused to completely abide by the order to remove over 1,000 accounts that were fuelling tensions using the "farmer genocide" hashtag and posting pro-Khalistan content.

"Spreading misinformation using an incendiary and baseless hashtag referring to ‘farmer genocide’ at a time when such irresponsible content can provoke and inflame the situation is neither journalistic freedom nor freedom of expression as envisaged under Article 19 of the Constitution of India," the MeitY secretary stated.

Despite the attention of Twitter being drawn to such content by the government through a lawful process, the platform allowed the content with this hashtag to continue, which was extremely unfortunate, the secretary further pointed out.

The Twitter officials were also apprised about the parallels between the January 26 violence in India and the Capitol Hill episode in the US, said the government statement.

"The Secretary expressed dissatisfaction over Twitter’s differential treatment in the two incidents," it added.

During the meeting, the "Toolkit" shared on Twitter was also mentioned. The tookit "made it evident that a strong social media campaign was planned in a foreign country around farmers protest", the government said.

"Misuse of Twitter’s platform for execution of such campaigns designed to create disharmony and unrest in India is unacceptable and Twitter must take strong action against such well-coordinated campaigns against India, through compliance with the applicable law of the land," the statement further added.

Twitter was told that "lawfully passed orders are binding on any business entity". The MeitY secretary expressed his "deep disappointment" about the manner in which Twitter has "unwillingly, grudgingly and with great delay" complied with the substantial parts of the order, the statement added.

The Twitter leadership, after being apprised about the apprehensions of the government, affirmed their commitment towards following the local laws and rules, the government statement said.
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